The Art of Self-Tracking
In this talk, Alberto discusses about the art of self-tracking, featuring works from international artists who use personal data tracking techniques in their artistic practices. He shares examples of self tracking from the following international artists: Janina Turek, Stephen Cartwright, Katherine Denatsio and Brian House. The artists' work varies from turning data into 3D sculptures to musical notation interpreted by cello players. Alberto shares his deep admiration and enthusiasm for these inspiring artists.
So throughout the year we’ve been working on an exhibition you can see it walking down the expo to the left and right corner where it say art gallery. And basically it was quite hard in a way I mean throughout my practice I had been meeting different individuals very committed to their self-tracking, and I sort of already had in mind when talking to Gary who would be a possible candidate to present. And the question came how to present them, and eventually as the exhibition and the expo was becoming more and more concrete, we figured out I sort of had ( E. Advic? unclear name 01:46) in Sweden is also a self-tracking artist living in Sweden.
So we started discussing and discussing with Gary and discussing later with Erica about how to present this artist and we came up with a format in order to you know like being able to present all of the artists without having to ship major works. But focusing in more of trying to communicate to you folk their practice.(E.Advic?): Maybe two words about the format I mean every single self-tracking practice is completely different when it comes to you know the way that it’s being represented, and stored and communicated. I mean we were struggling a little bit at the beginning. Of course we wanted to preserve this you know particularity of every project. But we came up with an idea that unified the language to the format of a square, but within that square which you can see is a kind of constraint we gave that you know artist who responded to our calls free hand you know how they want to talk about their daily practices. And here we would like to guide you very very briefly through examples that kind of represent different takes on what self-tracking or artistic self-tracking is.
So you might have attended earlier today a talk by Stephen Cartwright, who is an artist who experiments a lot with turning personal data and in that case location data into 3D sculptures. He combines different types and mostly working with locational data, but also temperature and different extracts of metadata into forming very particular representations, visual and as I said sculpture representations.Alberto Frigo: And in 2003, I met a Canadian couple that were going around with clamps and all there recorders and I got curios in what they were up to. And they were actually recording 365 days of sound, so that’s another way of self-tracking that’s not much concentrated on the visual, but other presentations but more acoustic representation of time.
And they recorded 365 days of sound and spent the coming five years to transcribe all the sounds they recorded. So they have large documentation of every little bird and every little noise and every little conversation that they had throughout these 365 days of sound.
Along with these audio work that you can retrieve by scanning the QR code accompanying the work, there’s several other sound works.(E.Advic?): On afternoon I received an email from Alberto saying do you know anything about the Janina Turek, who is she? She comes from the same town I come from, which is Krakow in Poland and she lives 200 meter from my family house. and it’s a very historical example of self-tracking. Janina Turek was tracking her life between 1943 and 2000, and three hours before she died was here last life log.
And it’s quite interesting if you look at it because the whole project was kept secret and was only discovered by her daughter when she passed away. There was a wardrobe containing 700 notebooks, very metical written logs, daily logs including conversations, including articles read, including people she saw through the window of her apartment. Everything is very well organized into notebooks. Color coded plus encrypted with some undecodible numbers that you know people are struggling with, the family is struggling with. So it’s a very interesting historical example and that is also something that we are trying to look at while gathering different cases.Alberto Frigo:As I was renovating an old barn in the Italian Alps, the carpenter that was helping me told me about this painter living in the village below, and he organized a visit to his apartment, a very dark apartment in which there were all these square canvases representing stones. This man was also in a way tracking time perhaps. He spent the last decade of his life picking stones from the mountains and placing them in a little corner where the only light in the living room is an trying to represent the composition of the stones, and that’s basically his main activity in life. And we thought such a way also of being dedicated to something is a form of tracking.(E.Advic?): And it’s a very interesting example of highly manual tracking where you literally use your manual skills to document your lifetime. Another very interesting example, an British artist Ellie Harrison, who in 2001started experimental with documenting mundane practices and processes in her life. But she started prior to you know, the proliferation of those practices and technologies. Here we see one project where she’s tracking every meal she consumes. And it’s also quite interesting to look at her practice because at some point she started developing more critical take into data collection. She wrote a very interesting book called Data Collectors Confessions or Confessions of a Data Collector which is available on her website.Alberto Frigo:And here we have talking about rituals and a renouncement of an American artist. It’s a Buddhist ritual of measuring with your body the way to something an I guess he will be the way to a shrine and in his case it’s the way to the supermarket. So you can actually view his work in one of these large monitors. He basically lays his entire body and stands up and measures his way all the way to the supermarket. I don’t know whether it took him all day to do so, but it’s quite striking also to see the reaction and the creativity of the people going around him.
We have similar work, for instance we have (Katherine Denatsio? 08:38) also a discussed artist and professor who has been calculating how many breath it took to evacuate Boston through the evacuation route that is part of the city.(E.Advic?): Brian House, New York based media artist, who works quite extensively with sound and that’s another perspective and other dimension that I said that we are looking at personifying of data is one way of working with personifying of personal data. And Brian House over a period of one year has been tracking his bike rides in New York and subsequently he turned them into musical notation, and the musical notation was later interpreted by actual musicians by cello players. You can experience that work and it’s also equipped with a QR code, and you can reach his website and he has actually quite an interesting selection of his works that has to do with visualizing, processing and personifying everyday data. Alberto Frigo:Yes, and when it comes to self-tracking there’s an interesting take on it, particularly related to French culture in 60s and 70s artists and writers have developed a way of generating work through the constraints. And here we have an artist but right now is no longer an artist. So a lot of the artists and art works you see belong to people that they have sort of tried out the potential of the digital media, and by now they are just doing normal office jobs and things like that, and Yann is one example. And it’s in Paris and between 2006 and 2009 he set these constraints that he would do things only 33%. So he would take pilgrimage to look and he would just go 33% on the pilgrimage. Or he would cook pasta only 33% of the proper time, or he would go to the bakery only 33% on the way to the bakery. Or he would receive a present from his mother of 100 Euros and only take 33 Euro’s of the amount, and return to his mother the 67 left. The QR code leads you to the documentary of the work on Vimeo that he and a lot of the other artists did the same. He specifically uploaded for us, the Quantified Self otherwise their work would have just be sold probably. So yeah, it’s an interesting like set of shaping your life through the constraints of particular artwork you want to create.(E.Advic?): You can also look at it as a kind of a sort of sarcastic take on you know like what progression, what advancement is, what motivation he’s going through. Like will you be motivated after reaching only 33% of your intended goals.
Our initiative doesn’t stop here. We are continuously looking for historical and contemporary examples of self-tracking related practices, and also venues where we can exhibit and discuss them. Our intention is to broaden the perspective as much as possible and try to be open to a lot of practices, not necessarily artistic ones. Because as Alberto said a lot of people that we showcase in this exhibition have almost sometimes nothing to do with the art in a conventional sense.
So please if you hear about an interesting case that fit into this way of looking at self-tracking contact us. Here is the information and on the right hand side you see us in Stockholm. That’s summer in Stockholm, we’re happy to be in San Francisco and experience the real summer, so thank you very much.